This may be the most important chapter of First Corinthians. In the last doctrinal section of the book, Paul confronts the erroneous belief of many in Corinth who adhered to the long-held Greek philosophy that the body will not be resurrected after death. Paul taught what Jesus had taught: the body and the soul will be united in the resurrection (see Luke 20:34-38).
Layer upon layer, Paul builds a brilliant argument for the resurrection. The foundation of his argument is the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus to the gospel. The gospel is stated succinctly in verses 3-4: Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose from the dead. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, the gospel — the “good news” — would not be good news at all. Our salvation hinges on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection; remove it and our faith would be futile and vain, and we would still be lost sinners (v.14, 17). To be lost in sin is to live under a death sentence, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But because of the resurrection of Jesus, those who believe the gospel are “made alive” (v.22). So a resurrection is made possible for believers because Jesus “destroyed death” when He was resurrected (v.26).
The second layer of Paul’s argument answers the question of what our resurrected bodies will look like (v.35-49). Remember that Paul was speaking into a culture that believed that the body was a prison, and death meant the release of the soul. The body was viewed as something negative that had to be escaped. But Paul taught that the bodies believers will receive in the resurrection are something to which we should look forward. Our resurrected bodies will not be like they were on earth. Our “natural” bodies often get sick, become weak with age, and eventually break down, die, and decay. But our “spiritual” bodies will never get sick, never get weak, and never die (v.42-43). Our bodies will be recognizable in heaven, but they will be suited for eternal existence (v.48-49).
The final layer of Paul’s argument is the triumphant conclusion of the chapter, verses 50-58. Because of the victory won by Jesus when He was raised, death has been defeated for all believers. So when Jesus returns and every believer is raised, we will undergo a lightning-fast transformation in which we will receive our glorified, resurrected bodies. That promise ought to strengthen our faith, knowing that what we do in service to the Lord will be worth it all when we are raised with glorious bodies to be with Jesus forever. What a day that will be! Be encouraged today — this life is not all there is! Glory and victory await us! Hallelujah!